Workers cope with rumored hostage situation
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Workers cope with rumored hostage situation

Date: November 10, 2009
By: Matt Pearce
State Capitol Bureau
Links: The companion story and the timeline

JEFFERSON CITY - Dozens of law enforcement officers surrounded his building, holding carbines and submachine guns. There were rumors of a hostage situation. No one knew what was happening.
Ted Robertson kept working.
"There were people nervous, but we were OK," Robertson said. Robertson, 53, a regulatory auditor in the Missouri Office of Public Counsel, worked on the 6th floor -- one floor above where a Public Service Commission employee reported hearing that a hostage situation was taking place.
"We could just look out the windows," Robertson said. "Everybody could see snipers on top of the buildings. They were out there looking at us, and we were looking back at them." He said he could also see police officers on the ground holding military rifles. It was reassuring, he said.
The Jefferson City Police Department, Capitol Police, Cole County Sheriff's Department, Missouri Highway Patrol, Jefferson City Fire Department and two SWAT teams were on the scene.
Even the Missouri Water Patrol had reported for duty.
"After a while, nobody seemed to be in any danger," Robertson said, shrugging. Despite the fresh memory of shootings in Texas and Florida, the mood seemed to be pretty calm.
Throughout the day a chopper circled the Governor Office Building and police cordoned off several blocks of Madison Street, which crosses in front of the building. The Missouri Highway Patrol had set up a mobile command unit in an alleyway across the street, and law enforcement from various agencies huddled at nearby street corners. A Cole County ambulance sat with its back doors open and a stretcher at the ready.

It wouldn't be needed.

Mark Hughes, the adviser to Commissioner Jeff Davis, was on the 9th floor. He said he hadn't thought of the recent shootings at all.

"This isn't Texas or Florida," Hughes said. "The distinction is, in those places, there was the sound of gunfire. There was nothing like that in this situation. Big difference."

Hughes said police were "very professional and thorough," evacuating the building floor by floor. He said he was taken down a staircase on the east end of the building and identified by an officer at the exit of his floor.

Once outside, Hughes said, police escorted workers to a restaurant down the block -- Madison's -- where police took their photographs, verified Social Security numbers and addresses, and then released them for the day.

"I didn't see any customers there," Hughes said. "They'd taken the restaurant over."

The experience wasn't a total hassle.

Robertson said Madison's had a buffet ready for the workers as police were interviewing him.

"He had been preparing food for his lunch crowd," Robertson said. "But today he had no lunch crowd."

After being interviewed, many workers were seen trickling out through an alleyway across from the Governor Office Building. Some were going home for the day. To a man, none of them had seen or heard anything suspicious. But almost all of them were carrying plastic bags with food containers in them. 

Twenty minutes later, as dozens of law enforcement officers left the building, employees began walking back inside. Robertson would be one of them. By the end of the work day, when Robertson left, the huge police presence had dissipated, night had fallen, and nothing remained of the incident but two news vans parked quietly on opposite ends of the block. Leaves hustled by the front of the Governor Office Building.

Tomorrow would be a holiday. Robertson had the day off.

"Just a wild goose chase," Robertson said of the commotion, shaking his head. He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked down the street.